OAKLAND — While it’s certainly more customary to see Eagles fly, on this night they were running.

A pair of Messalonskee backs tore through the Gardiner defense on Friday night, leading the Eagles to a 45-21 win over the Tigers in the Pine Tree Conference Class B season opener for both teams. Junior Austin Pelletier racked up 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground, while senior Colby Dexter added another 122 yards and three scores of his own.

For head coach Brad Bishop, it was nice to get the season off on the right foot. Or feet.

“We wanted to establish some things,” Bishop said. “We work a lot on (our running game). We had a lot of things open on the play-action off it, too. … We wanted to establish our run. It’s what we worked on, for the most part, all week. Our kids responded.”

The Eagles (1-0) got started early with Pelletier opening the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run less than four minutes into the first quarter. After a second straight three-and-out to open the game for Gardiner (0-1), Pelletier and Dexter alternated carries on Messalonskee’s second possession. The result was a punishing, eight-play, 70-yard scoring drive capped by Dexter’s 17-yard run on a reverse up the right side.

“It’s shared. Everyone’s really tight in the backfield,” Pelletier said of the options in the Messalonskee running game. “We really have a bunch of really good backs. Colby’s a lot more experienced, and he gets quite a few carries, and he does really well. He ran quite a few kids over.”

Messalonskee added a third touchdown to its lead with 9:30 left in the second quarter on Dexter’s second touchdown of the night — a 20-yard score after finding no room between the tackles before bouncing out to the right side.

Gardiner, which had gone three-and-out on its first three possessions of the game, finally found some momentum behind sophomore running back Cam Michaud. Michaud finished off a seven-play scoring drive — in which he carried six times — with a 7-yard touchdown run with less than seven minutes remaining in the half.

Michaud finished the night with 111 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

But Pelletier answered for Messalonskee with his second touchdown of the night on the Eagles’ next possession, going 32 yards up the middle as the home team headed into the locker room with a 28-7 lead. The Eagles then took the opening kick of the second half and turned it into a 10-play, 61-yard scoring drive that culminated with Dexter’s third touchdown for a 35-7 lead less than five minutes into the third quarter.

“It was all we talked about at halftime,” Bishop said. “We kind of felt that if we scored on our first drive (of the second half), it would put the game away right there.”

Gardiner ran just one play from scrimmage in the first eight minutes of the second half. That play turned into an interception when quarterback Cole Heaberlin’s pass deflected off the hands of receiver Matt Boynton and into the arms of Messalonskee cornerback Dylan Brown at the Tiger 38-yard line. That turnover set the stage for freshman kicker Kyle Burger-Roy’s 30-yard field goal and a 38-7 Messalonskee lead late in the third quarter.

The Eagles put the game away on Pelletier’s 65-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 45-7 lead with 3:32 remaining in the period. Pelletier ended the night with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns.

“We did a couple new things, but it was all the blocking,” Pelletier said. “I just caught the ball, and everyone else did all the hard work. It was amazing. I just followed the blocks, and we got six.”

“It’s only Week 1. It’s a quick season, we’ve only got seven more weeks,” Bishop said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do, but tonight was fine.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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